O's pitching in '94 could be M-M good

KEN ROSENTHAL

August 29, 1993|By Ken Rosenthal

The ideal scenario for 1994 is for the Orioles to acquire two veteran starting pitchers - one to pitch in the No.2 spot ahead of Ben McDonald, another to pitch in the No. 4 spot ahead of Arthur Rhodes.

It won't happen, even if Peter Angelos authorizes a wild spending spree. The Orioles also need another hitter and middle-relief help, and probably couldn't obtain two quality starters if they tried.

The free-agent pitchers - Tim Belcher, Dennis Martinez, David Wells, etc. - are nothing special. What's more, the way batting averages and ERAs are skyrocketing, clubs will be more reluctant than ever to trade pitching.

So, even if the Orioles are willing to part with Mike Devereaux or Brady Anderson for a front-line pitcher, they still might open the '94 season with a rookie - probably Kevin McGehee(cq) - as their No. 5 starter.

"Realistically," Orioles assistant general manager Doug Melvin said, "if you can add a veteran and break in a young pitcher each year, that's pretty much a game plan you'd like to have."

Especially if you're preparing a major push for first baseman Will Clark, the biggest prize in this year's free-agent class. Clark, 29, is an obvious target for the Orioles, if Angelos wants to make an impact move immediately.

Trading Devereaux or Anderson? The question no doubt will surface this winter. Both outfielders are eligible for free agency after the '94 season. The Orioles can sign one of them long-term and trade the other.

"We have to evaluate it," Melvin said. "We've got to be careful of that. I don't think we're so strong that we can just trade them. You always have to look for a good deal. But it's a possibility. You can't rule out the possibility."

Not with pitching such an urgent need. At least one club official believes the Orioles can win a division title with their present lineup. But hardly anyone thinks they can win with Rick Sutcliffe, Fernando Valenzuela and Jamie Moyer in their starting rotation.

Of the three, Moyer probably stands the best chance of returning. Never mind that he entered the season with only two wins in the '90s. The Orioles are 14-5 in his starts, and he's 25-14 the past two seasons, including Triple-A.

"He's starting to make everyone believe in him," Melvin said. "Early on, he looked like the kind of pitcher you'd have to evaluate after every one or two starts. But he's pitching low-hit games, his ERA is down, his walks and strikeouts are better than a Jeff Ballard's."

Ballard, another crafty left-hander, won 18 games for the Orioles in 1989, and it was all a mirage. He struck out only 62 in 215 1/3 innings, and the club averaged 5.75 runs in his starts.

Moyer gets similar run support (5.63), but already has the same number of strikeouts (62) in approximately half as many innings (110 1/3 ). He has beaten Jack McDowell, 1-0, Chuck Finley, 1-0 and Frank Viola, 2-1.

Think about it: The Orioles could acquire Martinez to be their No. 3 starter, and Moyer could remain the No. 5. Martinez, 38, probably wants to sign with his hometown Florida Marlins, but he retains a fondness for Baltimore. By getting him, the Orioles wouldn't need to rush McGehee.

In their wildest dreams, club officials envision Moyer as another Charlie Leibrandt, and McGehee as the next Doug Drabek. Don't laugh. The latter comparison might sound ridiculous, but it was first suggested by Rochester manager Bob Miscik(cq).

McGehee isn't a hard thrower (85-86 mph), but he's sneaky fast and throws strikes. Melvin, who previously worked for the New York Yankees, recalls reading the same type of reports on Drabek when the Yankees acquired him in 1984.

Of course, Drabek sharpened his breaking ball, added zip on his fastball and evolved into one of the game's most intelligent pitchers. McGehee has a long way to go, but if nothing else, getting him for Luis Mercedes (six extra-base hits in 213 Triple-A at-bats) was an absolute steal.

Left-hander John O'Donoghue? He will pitch in relief in the Arizona Fall League, an indication the Orioles aren't certain of his future as a starter. Right-hander Mike Oquist? Melvin labels him "the sleeper of the three," but he doesn't throw as hard as McGehee.

So much is uncertain. At this time last season, it would have been preposterous to suggest that Moyer and Valenzuela would be in the Orioles '93 rotation. By this time next season, all of Baltimore might be toasting the five Ms - Mussina, McDonald, Martinez, Moyer and McGehee.

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